Friday, 16 December 2016

Alpha - in translation: part 1, Bessora

Alpha is a graphic novel, originally published in French and now published in English by The Bucket List.  It's a straightly told story about a man who unwittingly becomes a refugee. It's award-winning and it's wonderful; and I'm delighted to have asked the author, Bessora, and the translator, Sarah Ardizzone, a few questions about its development (and themselves). 

Today, it's Bessora's turn with a couple of interjections from Sarah when search engines led to things getting out of hand!   

Bessora talking about Alpha on BBC Authors Live
WSD: Alpha has become much more than a book. Anything to say about this?

Bessora: A book should always be more than a book: it is a 3D universe, a reflection of life, characters are flesh and blood, with a story bearing a deep theme. Here, it is a guy who puts his life at stake for a better life: disorders of the world, migrations, everyone is concerned. I’m so glad to see that this book has a “life” beyond the book itself.

WSD: I'm imagining that in translating, you're going to lose 'something' from the original story but gain 'something' in the new language (aside from a new and different audience!). What do you think you might have 'lost' but also 'gained' in your translation of Alpha?

Bessora: A translation is an adaptation, and a creation. So it has to betray more or less the          original work. I do not believe that Alpha has lost anything in the translation: it is rather a new  breath. In the end, when I read it, I recognized my story, but I also felt like I was discovering        something new.

WSD: How collaborative a project was Alpha, especially in terms of the translation? Or did you have to put your trust in Sarah (and her reputation)?

Bessora: Alpha is a "simple" text, there is no hidden meaning to words or phrases. Sarah did not need me to explain anything to her. Trust is implicit: a translator is an author who also exercises his freedom of creation.
WSD: Without proficiency in French and without a Sarah, I have used Google translate to read your biography on your website. It is hilarious and interesting. I don't quite understand what happened to your reproductive organs but I think it might be along the lines of madwomen in attics?  

Bessora: Ask Sarah what she thinks of Google Translate. I share the same opinion! Maybe you   did not understand what happened to my reproductive organs because Google translate did not capture the mood of the text! Hooray, it'll never replace a professional translator!
To tell you everything, I do not remember what I told about my reproductive organs (maybe        that they were stressed !). 

Sarah Ardizzone: So the greatest description of Google Translate I’ve ever come across was told to me by a Year 6 (final year primary school) student, who I met at a translation workshop in Essex. ‘The thing is, Sarah,’ she informed me with terrifying assurance, ‘Google Translate doesn’t do flair, and it can’t do voice’.
As for Bessora’s reproductive organs, that all depends on what you’re translating: her language, her soaring imagination, or her mordant wit?

WSD: Have any of your other writings been translated into English?
Bessora: Alpha is the first of my texts to have been translated into English. Others will follow I  hope!

WSD: Here’s Bessora, explaining a bit about herself:

Bessora, lunatic author with variable geography Last book in English : Alpha ! Last book written in French (but very easy to read for English speaking people…): Nicolas !
Bessora, a fanciful author with variable geography. Tragedy, comedy, short story or comic, she    can do it all! Latest comic translated in English by Sarah: Alpha. Last novel in French:                     Le Testament de Nicolas (Nicolas’s Will)!
SA: Which Sarah also hopes to translate!

WSD: Looking forward to that, Sarah and Bessora!

Tomorrow, come back for Part 2 to find out more from Sarah Ardizzone about the background and artistic development of Alpha, and her role in championing it for translation and publication in English.


You can read WSD's review of Alpha here.

To find out more about Bessora's charmingly funny bio, take a look at her blog - and beware Google translate!

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